Signs that your baby has colic, tips for coping with a colicky baby and possible treatment options and cures.
Every baby cries, but babies who cry for more than three hours a day for more than three days a week may have colic. A baby with colic will cry uncontrollably, despite being healthy and well fed. Colic is a harmless condition, although it can be very upsetting for parents or carers.
About one fifth of babies get colic, and it equally affects boys and girls, first born children and those born later. In general, it appears at around two to four weeks of age and can last for three months, or longer in some cases.
The cause of colic is unknown, however there are ways to help calm your baby down. In the past colic was thought to be related to the digestive system. However, although painful abdominal gas may contribute to colic, there is little evidence to prove it's due to gastrointestinal problems.
Another possible cause of colic is a combination of the baby's temperament and an immature nervous system. The baby's temperament may make him or her highly sensitive to the environment, and he or she may react to normal stimulation or changes to the environment by crying. Because the baby's nervous system is immature, he or she is unable to regulate crying once it starts.
The main symptom of colic is continuous crying for long periods of time. Although this crying can occur at any time, it is usually worse in the evening. Although colic is not thought to be due to pain, a baby with colic may look uncomfortable or appear to be in pain. Babies may lift their head, draw their legs up to their tummy, become red in the face and pass wind. Some babies refuse to eat. Difficulty falling and staying asleep is also common.
Normally, colic is not a serious condition. Research shows that babies with colic continue to eat and gain weight normally, despite the crying. The main problem with the condition is the stress and anxiety it creates within the home. Parents and other family members may find it difficult to cope with the constant crying, so it's important to have support and to take a break now and then.
Colic does not need medical treatment. However, any parent or carer who is worried about their baby's crying may want to get advice from a healthcare professional to make sure there is no serious problem.
Before visiting a doctor, all other possible causes of crying should be eliminated. These include, hunger, tiredness, lack of contact, temperature or pain.
If your baby is diagnosed with colic there are many things parents can do to help the baby, and themselves. Though there is no single medicine or proven cure for colic, there are several measures that may help. Different babies are comforted by different measures, and parents usually need to try various methods to see what works.
- Parents who bottle-feed their babies may want to try a different formula.
- Parents who breastfeed their babies should continue to do so as weaning the baby from breast milk may make the colic worse.
- Some women find that certain foods in their diet seem to make colic worse and they may find that cutting these foods out helps. These might include vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, parsnips, onions, or beans, garlic, apricots, melon, spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol. By reintroducing foods gradually, you may be able to identify which food, if any, is causing the problem.
- If there is a family history of milk sugar (lactose) intolerance, breastfeeding mothers could try eliminating cows milk from their diet. Sometimes babies are not able to digest lactose well, but this improves as they get older.
- Some parents who bottle-feed their baby try changing over to soya-based formula, but there is no evidence that this is effective at reducing colic.
- If your baby seems to have a lot of wind, make sure he or she is burped frequently. Babies who are bottle-fed may swallow air from the bottle so try feeding the baby in a different position, or using a bottle and teat designed to reduce the amount of air the baby swallows during a feed. These include curved bottles, bottles with a collapsible bag inside or bottles with a vent.
To soothe babies with colic, the following techniques may be helpful:
- carry the baby in a front sling or back pack
- wrap him or her snugly in a blanket (this is called swaddling)
- keep the baby moving in a baby swing
- place him or her near continuous noise or vibrations from household appliances like the dishwasher, vacuum cleaner or washer-dryer
- take him or her for a car ride or a walk outside
- give him or her a dummy to suck on
- give him or her tummy or back rubs
- take a shower together as the warm water may be comforting
There are no medicines used to treat colic. However there are things which may help to relieve abdominal symptoms. It may be worth trying "colic drops" or "gripe water", which are available without a prescription.
Having a colicky baby can be very stressful, frustrating and challenging for any parent, particularly if it is the first child. Babies may pick up on anxiety around them, and this may make colic worse. It's important for the parents or carer to have time to themselves. Parents who feel overwhelmed should take a break. Ask a partner or friend to take over for a while, even for an hour or two.